Intl Tribunal for Law of Sea obliges Russia to release three Ukrainian vessels, 24 sailors, return them to Ukraine
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has made a decision obliging the Russian Federation to release three Ukrainian vessels and 24 Ukrainian sailors detained in the Kerch Strait in November 2018 and allow them to return to Ukraine.
President of the Tribunal Jin-Hyun Paik announced the award on the imposition of interim measures against Russia asked by the Ukrainian side in Hamburg (Germany) on Saturday, May 25.
The Russian Federation is required to immediately release the Ukrainian military ships Berdyansk, Nikopol and Yany Kapu tug and return them to Ukraine, he read.
A total of 19 judges voted in favor of this decision, one judge - Ruslan Kolodkin (the Russian Federation) voted against the decision.
Also, it was decided that "the Russian Federation is required to release the twenty-four detained Ukrainian servicemen and allow them to return to Ukraine."
As reported, on November 25, 2018, Russian border guards used weapons to stop three Ukrainian naval vessels, the Yany Kapu tug and the Berdyansk and the Nikopol armored gunboats, which were traveling from Odesa to Mariupol in the Kerch Strait. The vessels were escorted to Kerch.
The Federal Security Service (FSB) said the ships had entered Russia's territorial waters on orders from Kyiv and described the incident as an act of provocation coordinated by two Ukrainian Security Service officers. Russia also said that Kyiv had not duly notified it that naval vessels were planning to pass through the Kerch Strait.
Kyiv called the border guards' actions unlawful and accused Moscow of violating the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and a treaty between Ukraine and Russia on cooperation in using the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.
The 24 Ukrainians, who were aboard, including two officials from the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), are now charged with "conspiracy by a group of persons or an organized group to illegally cross the border using violence or the threat to use violence" (a crime enshrined by Part 3 of Article 322 of the Russian Criminal Code). The crime is punishable by up to six years in prison.
The Ukrainians were taken to Moscow in late November.
On April 16, Ukraine asked the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to impose measures with respect to Russia, demanding the release of the Ukrainian naval sailors and naval ships detained in the Kerch Strait in November 2018. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea gives naval vessels and their personnel absolute immunity, which envisages that foreign states cannot arrest, detain and try them.
On May 10, 2019, ITLOS started hearing the case of Ukrainian sailors. Deputy Foreign Minister for European Integration Olena Zerkal acts as agent from Ukraine at the hearings.